Sunday, December 4, 2011

Four More Years

Congrats to Mayor Joe Riley on his recent re-election to a 10th term as mayor of the Holy City. I was but a mere child (well, teenager) when he was first elected 36 years ago. I didn't have much interest in things political at the time, but I can certainly remember a few of the huge changes this city experienced early in his tenure - and how they were met with some resistance by many folks at the time. One of my first memories was the revitalization of the City Market. At the time (1977), the market was very seedy - a lot of warehouses (some vacant) and a lot of bums hanging around the area, even during the daytime. In fact, I wouldn't have even ventured into the area in the nighttime - and wouldn't have had any reason to. My college friend Eddie had a part-time job in one of the packing sheds, and there were some black women selling vegetables in the open air sheds. But those weren't really reason enough to venture into the area, even in broad daylight. Alas, we heard that a "nice bar" was opening in the area - Frances Willard's (named for a tee-totaller during Prohibition). It seemed strange to think of a respectable establishment in that area, but it was great, and before you knew it, several others popped up. And vendors began renting space in the open air sheds to sell all kinds of things from tee-shirts to shot glasses to framed prints. (My sister worked for her boyfriend's father selling glasses and trivets at one of the booths.) Well, hasn't this place come a long way from those days! From there, other projects emerged under the mayor's guidance (and sometimes suggestion) - Spoleto USA, Charleston Place, Waterfront Park, the SC Aquarium, the Official Visitors Center, the Upper King Street Revitalization. I'll stop there, but each of these projects were met initially with reticence by many Charlestonians. But look at where they've gotten us. Thanks, Mayor Riley, for 36 years of your vision in helping to guide this city to the prominence it deserves.

Friday, December 2, 2011

King is King

Congratulations again to the Holy City for having one of the best shopping districts in the country - at least according to US News and World Report. It's pretty exciting to be recognized among the likes of 5th Avenue in NYC and Rodeo Drove in LA. No locals would dispute the fact that shopping on King Street is great, and now everyone else knows it too. And because it is closed to auto traffic on the second Sunday of each month., shoppers can enjoy it even more! With a mile of shops divided into three distinct areas (the antique district, the unique locally-owned boutiqes section, and traditional shops wedged in-between those two areas), there is something for everyone. Why would anyone want to go to a mall when you can visit establishments on King like Birlant's Antiques, Croghan's Jewel Box and Blue Bicycle Books? Shopping downtown is a blast from the past, for you baby boomers. And it's trendy among younger shoppers as well. Try it. You might like it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Barbados Connection

I had the good fortune today to give a walking tour of the Uptown area of the city to a gentleman from Barbados. He is a government official there and is here in town for the special event, "Barbados Comes Back to Charleston." That island nation, a British colony until just four decades ago, has a very strong connection to our holy city. Some even say that the city of Charleston was modeled after Barbados. Certainly, there are too many similarities for it to be simply coincidental. Both were British colonies. The plantation system and the use of Africans as slave labor here came from Barbados. The homes here, with their long porches on either the front or the side of the house, are similar to those in Barbados. Referring to geographic areas as parishes (named after the closest Anglican church) is yet another similarity. When I was walking through Mazyck-Wraggborough and Ansonborough with this gentleman, he continually pointed out similitaries in the architecture as well as recognizing surnames on some of the house plaques as being the same family names as wealthy white landowners in his homeland. I could see his interest and enthusiasm for our city and its connection to his country. I look forward to a visit to Barbados at some point and viewing it through the eyes of a Charlestonian. In the meantime, it'll be fun to explore more of this through the events of the upcoming weekend. For more on this, check out .

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Friday to Remember

I've been quite derelict in my duties of blogging - blame it on the summer doldrums which lulls many of us into complacency. But that's not to say there's nothing happening around here. An exciting event took place last Friday, and many (including myself) braved the heat to participate. July 15, 2011 marked an important milestone in Civil War and African-American history. An historical marker was unveiled at Folly Beach near a spot where the remains of two black soldiers from the 54th and 55th Massachusetts (Colored) Volunteers were discovered over 20 years ago. The regiments were stationed on Folly Beach in 1863 during the siege of Charleston by U.S. forces. (It was during that time that the actual events depicted in the movie, "Glory," took place on nearby Morris Island.) Many U.S. soldiers who died far away from home were buried in unmarked graves on Folly and Morris Islands, and their bodies lie still undiscovered. It just so happens that the remains of these two men were found by my childhood friend 125 years after they'd died. Robert Bohrn, an avid relic hunter since I knew him as a kid, found the intact skeletons in 1987 and initiated the effort to have the men reinterred at Beaufort National Cemetery and a marker dedicated on Folly Beach to all the men of the 55th. He also personally paid for bronze busts to be cast from the skulls of these two so that their likenesses could be known and memorialized. Robert's childhood passion has now itself become a part of history. I still have visions of a young, skinny 13-year old trudging through the marsh in our neighborhood, covered with pluff mud and carrying his metal detector and a bag with all kinds of Civil War artifacts that he found almost daily. Thanks, Robert, for your lifelong avocation and for opening up our eyes to the history that surrounds us.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Another First for Charleston - Memorial Day 1865

Charleston can boast of many "firsts" - the first theater in North America, the first opera performance in the New World (both events particularly relevant now with Spoleto - but more on that later), the first shot in the war between the states, the first time black U.S. soldiers were deployed in combat - the list goes on and on. Since this is Memorial Day weekend, let's talk about the very first Memorial Day - which occurred (of course) in Charleston. The account is as follows: During the Civil War, many U.S. soldiers died while imprisoned at the city's Washington Race Course (now the site of Hampton Park). When the war ended, freed slaves wanted to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers whose sacrifice had led to their freedom from bondage, so they laid flowers on the unmarked graves there. This is considered by many to be the first "memorial day." Later, other cities held similar acts of remembrance (and also claimed to have been first to commemorate the day). In 1868, when wreaths were laid on graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington Cemetery, the observation became officially observed nationally. Today there is a marker at Hampton Park describing the very first memorial day.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

To Cruise or Not to Cruise - That is the Question

I am trying to remain neutral until the details are worked out in the current controversy over the cruise ships visiting the Holy City. But yesterday, during a tour, I stopped at the corner of North Market Street and Meeting and glanced down toward the Cooper River. Lo and behold, there is the tail of the Carnival cruise ship - plain as day - as the focal point at the end of the street. Hmmm. It wasn't particularly attractive. And it was a surprise to see it juxtapositioned with the 19th century buildings all along the street. Our mayor tells us that we must add cruise ships to the history of our city's rich maritime heritage. After all, there were passenger lines coming and going throughout the last 300 years of Charleston's existence. My 90 year old uncle remembers the Clyde Line (steamship) used to run from Jacksonville to Charleston to Norfolk to Philadelphia and finally to NYC. It would stop at each city and spend a day there. People would be on business or pleasure trips when there weren’t many airplanes in the 1930s – and would party the whole time. (Just like the "fun ships" today.) He said that produce (fruit) from Florida would also arrive on the Clyde Line. My uncle worked as a kid at the Automatic Grocery on Broad Street so he knew there would be a shipment coming in to the store when the ship arrived. So I guess cruise ships are nothing new to Charleston after all. But the difference now is that they bring headaches (traffic problems, overcrowding, etc.) rather than fruit! But as my wise old uncle also says, people opposed Charleston Place and Waterfront Park when they were first in the works - and we know how they both turned out!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Sign of the Times

The older we get, the more we seem to reflect on holidays past. So this Easter, I am reminded of the Easters of my childhood - which always required a new dress, hat, gloves, and shoes for my sister and me. The ensemble was usually purchased at Condon's Department Store on the corner of King and Warren Streets. (And then on Easter, multiple pictures were taken of my sister, mother and me in front of the gargantuan azalea bushes in our front yard.) Condon's, one of Charleston's first "department stores," was run by a local family. And on the off-chance that you couldn't find what was needed there, you could always visit Kerrison's, another locally run business several blocks south in the "downtown" district. (Condon's was uptown.) Both of these businesses have been closed for years due to the popularity of "mall" shopping leading to mass evacuation of stores in the city. Only a few of the old family-run businesses have remained: Berlin's Menswear (where my daddy got all his suits), Dumas (where I bought my first pair of blue jeans in the 1970s), and Croghan's Jewel Box (where my husband and I picked out my diamond engagement ring almost three decades ago) are some of those that are still around. And after approximately 30 years of hanging on for dear life, these businesses have finally been able to reap the rewards of a resurgence of interest in King Street as a shopping district. What is amusing to newcomers (and sentimental for old-timers) is that many of the businesses of yesteryear may be gone but some semblance of them remains on the buildings themselves. A Thai restaurant sports the sign for Robinson's Bicycle Shop (complete with a bicycle on top of it). Chase Furniture's sign sits on the facade of what is now the Charleston School of Law. Edwards' Five and Dime, Bluesteins Apparel, Dixie Furniture, and Abrams Menswear are but a few of the others who have found new identities today but whose names are still on the buildings. Take a stroll along King, particularly in the "Upper King Street District" north of Calhoun Street, and see how many clues you can find of the businesses that came before. And be reminded that Charlestonians' desire and longing for the past are what make it so special in the present.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sesquicentennial Thoughts

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the first shots of the Civil War. The week has been chock full of events to mark the occasion, from artillery displays, encampments, and cannons firing. Things will likely settle down around here for the next couple of years, just as they did 150 years ago. The first two years of the war were rather quiet in the Holy City (even though a very important battle took place just across the river on James Island in June 1862). But things began to heat up intensely (both figuratively and literally) around here the next summer (1863) when the city came under siege - and remained so for over 18 months. So just because things are quiet now, don't assume the commemorative events have come to an end. This is just the beginning.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Bridging the Century

Reflecting on the annual (33rd maybe?) Cooper River Bridge Run held today and listening to my 22 year old son relay his enjoyment of participating in the race (for his 2nd year), I began to think about the "old bridge" on which the annual race originated. When it was constructed in the 1920s, it was considered an engineering marvel. However, it became obsolete by its 70th birthday and is now gone but not forgotten - at least by old-timers here. I must say I never had much of an affinity for it. It scared the daylights out of me when I started driving! Although it was built for 2-way traffic (and was only 2 lanes wide), it had become one-way by the 1960s when a slightly larger version of it was built alongside it to transport drivers east across the Cooper while the old bridge carried them west. When the Bridge Run was held on the old bridge, runners would say they could feel the bridge swaying with the movement of the many hundred (eventually thousand) feet in motion. (Glad I'm not a runner!) But nonetheless, the original bridge had its place in history, just as the "new" Ravenel Bridge does. When my mother was 14 years old, she was given a class assignment by her teacher to write an essay on how she imagined Charleston would be 100 years in the future. The focus of her theme was shipping, and part of her story was the "old bridge." Even though the bridge was not even 2 decades old at the time, she foretold that a larger one would be built to accommodate larger vessels that would sail under it 100 years hence. Her predictions have become true - both about the bridge and about the ships. And her essay was chosen to be put into the time trunk at the Charleston Museum. It will be opened in 2039, and we'll see just what a young 14 year old student had to say on the topic. In any event, the Cooper River Bridge (both past and present) is not only an important fixture in our skyline here, but is also an important testament to the industry on which this city was founded.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tea Time and Other Musings

It's time again for the annual spring tea rooms at various churches in the area. Old St. Andrew's is required attendance for me, and I'm looking forward to the wonderful she-crab soup and chicken salad sandwich there - not to mention the Huguenot tort! This is their last week, but there will be tea rooms at St. Philip's the first week in May and St. Matthew's, Grace Episcopal, and Second Presbyterian later in May. I'm going to hit each one this year! Also, St. Johannes has a later afternoon tea - 2:30 - 6:00 this coming Tuesday. So much to do! Squeeze in a trip to Magnolia Gardens as well as Middleton Place (can't miss the azaleas reflecting in the mill pond there - awesome!). Hope to see you out and about, taking in all that spring in the Lowcountry has to offer - don't miss a day of its beauty!!!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Capturing a Fort

Visitors (and new residents) often gaze at the harbor from Waterfront Park or from the Battery and wonder about the small overgrown fort, seemingly a stone's throw away, between the city and Patriots Point. Hopefully, the coverage of it in today's paper will solve the mystery for those folks. The rest of us know it's Castle Pinckney, an early 19th century fort named for Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, one of the signers of the U.S. Constitution who hailed from our neck of the woods. (He was also a hero of the Revolutionary War, but don't get me started on that topic, as I've already "written the book" on it.) Anyway, back to the fort, it was built as a defense of the harbor but never saw any military action other than being taken over by Confederate troops at the begining of the Civil War - even before they took over Ft. Sumter. But to stay on track, today the focus is on capturing the fort - in pictures. The School of the Building Arts is diligently working with the State Ports Authority (who owns it) and the National Park Service to clear it of brush so that experts (and students) can make drawings and notes on its condition. For most of my life, the island (more like a sandbar) where the fort is located was a place to visit if you had your own boat (or a friend's) and do a little exploring (or sunbathing). I don't know why it was made off limits to boaters in recent years, but I suspect it has to do with the SPA assuming ownership and the Homeland Security issues the SPA has in place. I have heard of no plans to make this a tourist attraction, so I'm assuming that the ongoing studies there are purely to gather historical data. Even though I fondly remember the days when it was a beachcomber's getaway, let's hope from here on it is allowed to remain secluded and untouched by humans. Not every old fort needs to become an attraction. But it is also doubtful that boaters will ever be allowed to set foot there again, as in my youth, but that might not be a bad thing. After all, look what has happened to Morris Island. (However, Morris Island may soon be the last place anyone around here can hit the beach without having to pay to park. I'll save that diatribe for another day.)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Not Just for SEWE

The College of Charleston has ongoing exhibits that will appeal to animal and nature lovers who will be attending the Southeastern Wildlife Expo (SEWE). On permanent display at their Addlestone Library is a copy of John Audobon's "Birds of N. America". It is open to two pages, and every day, the pages are turned. It is said that if a freshman visited the library every day and viewed the pages displayed each day, he would have viewed the entire book at the end of his 4 years. Cool, eh? All that for free. They also have on permanent display in the Natural History Exhibit in the Liddy Science Center some really cool fossils of mammals that roamed the Lowcountry 23 million years ago! A huge 30 foot long lizard and a 7 foot tall pig are only a couple of the 2,000 fossils in the collection. And you can view these for free - and not just during SEWE. But SEWE's as good a time as any to visit these 2 amazing exhibits!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

We're Off and Running

We've made it through January, so we're on the way now! With February comes the Southeastern Wildlife Expo - something akin to celebrating the new year in Charleston! All the wonderful exhibits and demonstrations will bring us out of hibernation - and not a bit too soon! What a winter! I'm viewing today as the last cold dreary day we'll have - obviously wishful thinking - but, between weather forecasts that offer us sunny days and temps in the low 60s for the next week and the excitement surrounding SEWE next weekend, the worst has got to be behind us! So happy 2011. And be sure to get out there to check out something at SEWE - the schedule of events will be published in an insert in the Post and Courier, and yours truly wrote the lead article on the featured artist, Eldridge Hardie. (This year's poster is from one of his paintings.) Remember, there's nothing but blue skies from now on!